Summertime Striper Fishing

Lake Hartwell Striper Fishing Report  – June 28, 2020

The striper bite is ON!   Fish are beginning to show up in their usual summertime haunts on Lake Hartwell.   The surface water temps are in the upper 70’s in the early morning, and warming up to the low 80’s by noon.  Fortunately we’ve have a few afternoon showers to keep the water from getting into the high 80’s.   That will eventually happen, but for now, the cooler water is keeping the bite going later into the day.   So get on the water NOW! 

In the summer, a lot of our Hartwell stripers and hybrids move south to find deeper water, and food.  And there’s plenty of bait out there right now.   I’m finding bait wads that will literally fill up the screen on my Simrad.  If you have SideScan, you can determine which side of the boat you should be fishing on too.   Sometimes the bait school will be so large it extends 20 or 30 feet on each side of the boat.  If there’s bait around, the linesides won’t be too far away. 

I’ve even been seeing some topwater activity early in the morning, and the fish that are busting the surface will readily take a MirroLure, Zara Spook, or Redfin plug.  I actually caught a hybrid on a buzzbait the other day.  So keep a surface plug tied on and ready to cast.  Make your cast beyond the school and retrieve through it.  If a fish hits, but doesn’t get hooked, don’t change your retrieve pace.  There will be a dozen or more fish just beneath the lure deciding whether to strike it or not.  

As the sun rises above the treeline, the fish are going deeper.   Downlines over a 50 to 60 foot bottom, with baits hovering around the 25 foot mark is the key.   Look for humps on the edge of the main river, or at the mouths of major creeks.  Especially humps that have steep drop-off’s. 

The area south of the confluence of the Tugaloo and Seneca, including Lightwood Log and PowderBag creek are all holding fish right now.  They may be suspended in the trees, or hanging out over a clean bottom.  Again, finding the bait schools is a key factor, so set your SideScan on 140 to 200 feet out.  While you’re searching for fish, go ahead and deploy a couple of Project-X X-Rigs loaded with 3/8 oz or ½ oz WhoopAss Bucktails and 3-inch Project-X Saucertails in pearl or electric rooster colors.  Fan the arms out and drop it about 100 feet behind the boat and set your troll speed around 2 – 3 mph.  This is a good speed for your sonar to paint a good picture, and it’s a perfect speed to get the X-Rig down around 15 feet.  Get all your WhoopAss and Project-X tackle at NutsAndBoltsFishing.com’s Online Tackle Store

Keeping blueback herring frisky is a challenge with the warmer water temps.  Use the water from the bait stores, and recirculate it, versus drawing in lake water.   Freeze a couple half gallon milk jugs filled ¾ with well water (or water you get from the bait store).   Drop the jugs in your livewell mid-morning to keep the water cool.  The water from the jug will refresh the water in your tank.  I highly recommend the Keep Alive O2 system.  The oxygen keeps the bait frisky, and it also cools the water in your well.  I’ve kept baits for 3 days with the oxygen and an occasional water change.  The O2 really works.

Finally, the jig and spoon bite is beginning to crank up too.   Keep a 2 oz WhoopAss Bucktail tied on for when the school sounds, drop it straight to the bottom, then retrieve it as fast as you can.  The Boss Hawg and Parker spoons will get the job done as well.  

If you’d like to spend a fun day on the water with Capt. Cefus and Buck the Wonder Dog, call or email – 404 402 8329  or Cefus@NutsAndBoltsFishing.com

Tight lines and calm seas.

Capt. Cefus McRae – Nuts & Bolts of Fishing

Where Did All The Fish Go?

Summertime is here!  It’s hot for us humans, and it’s hot for the fish too.

For us two-legged critters, we can seek the comfort and cooling of indoor air-conditioning.  For fish, that’s not exactly practical, so they have to look for cooler water temperatures that deep water can provide. 

First, let’s get down to the basics…from a fish’s perspective.   For the most part, fish have four priorities.  And they all center around survival. The first three are the ones to consider in the summertime.

#1. Food – Just like us, fish have to eat to survive.  And their natural food sources are going to usually hang out where the water temps are comfortable to them too.   An active striped bass will eat almost half its body weight in food every day. 

 #2. Oxygen – Fish have to breathe, even though it’s through their gills.  Cool water can hold a higher concentration of dissolved oxygen than hot water.  So fish will naturally go to depths that are cooler than the warmer surface temperatures.

#3. Safety – In the world beneath the waves, it’s eat or be eaten.  Top-of-the-food-chain predators like striped bass will consume just about anything that represents a tasty meal, including smaller stripers.  So bait fish spend the majority of their lives hanging around cover, or schooling up because there’s safety in numbers. 

#4. Make babies – Although the preceding three items have the highest priority, there are times when all that goes out the window in order to propagate the species.  Just before the spawn and just after the spawn are the times when most gamefish get really hungry because they know it could be a few weeks before their minds return to eating again. 

So, in the hot summertime, you should shift your fishing gameplan to locating the top two items…  Oxygen and Food.  That can mean fishing deep, or it can mean fishing early (or late).   A cool night can cool down the surface water temperature and encourage the baitfish to move shallower humps and creeks.  So fishing just before dawn, or after sunset can be good times.   Nighttime fishing around dock lights that attract baitfish is also a good bet.  But by the time the sun touches the treetops, most big fish are headed to deeper water, where they can take it easy and get plenty of oxygen. 

Fish are cold-blooded critters, so as the water heats up, they will become a little more sluggish and not as eager to chase a fast-retrieved bait.   The same holds true for extremely cold water in the wintertime.   So slow down your presentations a bit.   If you have access, try using live bait or cut natural bait, and fish it on a downline, or very slow retrieve.   A big striper or bass that’s trying it’s best just to survive is less likely to expend a lot of energy to dart after a fast-trolled spoon. 

In our deeper reservoirs, like Lanier, Murray, Hartwell and others, if you adjust your sonar sensitivity up higher, you should be able to see the thermocline.  It will look like a thin line that’s kind of ‘fuzzy’, somewhere between 25 and 40 feet down.  This actually a layer of water that sets up in the summer months in our local reservoirs, separating the warm water above, from the cold water below.    Above the thermocline, the water is warm and doesn’t hold as much dissolved oxygen.   Below the thermocline, the water is much colder and there’s virtually no oxygen.  So, the thermocline becomes the ‘sweet spot’ where most fish will find comfortable temperatures and more oxygen.  This is the case for both the baitfish and the gamefish.   And that’s the thought to keep in your mind regarding depths to fish. 

The moral of this story…the fish haven’t left the pond, although at times it may seem like it.  They haven’t gone on vacation for the summer.  They’ve just relocated to places where they can survive.  Keep this in mind on your next fishing trip, and you’ll probably put a few more fish in the boat.

Tight lines and smooth seas,

Capt. Cefus & Buck the Wonder Dog

Summertime Hot Spots

Now that we’re able to move about the country a little more ‘freely and safely’, folks have been asking me about my favorite places to fish.  My answer is usually, “Wherever they are biting”.

But since summertime is upon us, I thought I’d share my Top 5 places in the southeast to go fishing in the summer.  There are literally hundreds of great destinations that could make it into the top slots, but these are my go-to places where you are sure to stretch a string. 

Summertime is an awesome time for coastal fishing. This mondo cuda showed up off the GA coast.

#1. A neighborhood pond or lake.  There are small bodies of water throughout the southeast that are briming with fish.  And there’s probably one within a short walk or a couple miles of where you live.  I’m not suggesting you just go ‘willy-nilly’ on private property and start fishing.  You’ll need to get permission from the landowner.   But these little freshwater gems provide a great way to spend an afternoon fishing for bream and bass.  And you don’t need a boat or expensive tackle.  A spinning reel, a tube of crickets or a tub of worms, and a couple of bobbers…and you’re set.  Go early morning or late afternoon and cast from the bank.   If you can arrange to fish on a full moon, the bream will likely be on bed, and this is the perfect time to take the kids along and get them hooked on fishing.  By the way, a lot of state parks have ponds that are regularly stocked as well.

#2. Trout fishing in the north Georgia, Tennesse and Carolina mountains.  Take a break from the summer heat and spend a day or two on a cool mountain stream fishing for trout.  Again, depending on the stream, you can fish with crickets or worms, small spinners and crank baits, or learn to fish with a fly rod.  There are numerous designated public trout streams, all stocked by the DNR, across the southeastern mountain range.  And there are also plenty of managed, private streams where you can go with a guide and learn the ropes of fishing for trout.  A couple of my go-to guide services are Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, GA, and Cohutta Fishing Company in Blue Ridge, GA.   Give these folks a call for an exciting adventure on the water.

#3. St. Simons Island, GA.   Besides being a wonderful destination in its own right, the coastal waters off Georgia’s barrier islands are an awesome fishery.   In late June, the big fish show up along the coastline.   And I mean big fish!  Bull redfish over 30 pounds, spinner sharks that put on a saltwater acrobatic show like you’ve never seen, and large tarpon all roam the nearshore waters in search of their next meal.   It’s a quick trip to the fishing grounds, and screaming drags.  A great resource on the island is the St. Simons Fishing Center and Capt. Mark Noble.

St. Simons Island tarpon

#4. The southeastern striper and hybrid bass impoundments.   There are at least a dozen reservoirs that offer excellent summertime fishing for stripers and hybrids.   And 50+ fish days are not unusual.   Lake Lanier, Allatoona, Oconee, Hartwell and Clark Hill in Georgia.  Lake Murray and Greenwood in SC.   Lake Martin, Lewis Smith and Wedowee in Alabama.  In North Carolina, High Rock, Norman and Badin Lake are great summer fisheries.  As the water warms up, the fish tend to go deeper, so umbrella rigs and leadcore line are tactics commonly used to put your baits in the strike zone.

#5.  St. Augustine, FL.  In June, and throughout the summer, herds of king mackerel gather just a couple miles off the coast.   Mixed in with the kings will be cobia, large jacks and sailfish.   Trolling large natural baits and diving plugs will draw strikes all day long.   Be sure to put a couple baits down deep with your Scotty downrigger to attract the bigger fish.  And if the sea conditions keep you inshore, you can wrestle with big flounder, speckled trout and redfish in the backwaters.   Call Capt. Scott Shank of Full House Charters for a great time on the water.

These are just a few places that will satisfy your fishing hunger, and there are so many more.   Do a little homework, make a few calls and start planning your next fishing adventure in the southeast.  There’s a fish out there just waiting to jump on your line.  If you’re having trouble deciding, check out our recommended guides and destinations on the Nuts & Bolts of Fishing website.

Tight lines and calm seas,

Capt. Cefus and Buck, the Wonder Dog.

Old Dogs…New Fishing Tricks

Look in my tackle boxes, and you’ll find a lot of lures, hooks and rigs that have been catching fish for decades…or longer.   Those unimpressive purple plastic worms rigged on a Tru-Turn bass hook with a bullet sinker still fools bass.  The WhoopAss Bucktail jigs continue to catch stripers, hybrids, snapper, grouper, cobia and a variety of other species.  And my scratched up MirroLures will catch just about anything that swims.   These rigs have been doing the job for as long as I can remember.  And for the most part, they still are a vital part of my go-to portfolio of confidence lures and rigs.

Every season, tackle manufacturers debut new lures that are sure to be the next wave in fish-catching.   Some of them are so realistic, it’s almost impossible to distinguish them from the real thing.  In truth, many of them are essentially the same lure with a different coat of paint, a slightly different swimming action, or a different size.   And, yes, they will also catch fish. 

Every so often a rig comes along that has a distinct impact on the sport.   Remember when Alabama Rigs first came out.  They were so effective, many tournaments banned them from use.  Some state regulations now only let you have three hooks on a five-hook rig.  It is crazy how these micro versions of the time-tested umbrella rig attract gamefish.  And a lot of companies jumped on the bandwagon to produce similar (but improved) versions of that rig.  The Captain Mack’s Mini-Mack and Project X X-Rig are two good examples of taking a good idea and making it even better. 

Hard plastic and soft plastic swim baits have been around forever; and are probably the most continuously updated lure style.  My grandfather had one of the original Animated Minnows, and lots of lures from Creek Chub and Heddon.   They all caught fish.  Fast-forward fifty years and innovations in manufacturing have created more lifelike action, with amazing graphics.  Two that come to mind are the Sebile Magic Swimmer and Savage Gear’s 4 Play 2.0 look like real baitfish swimming in the water, and they catch fish.  In the soft plastic realm, the paddle-tail lures have really come into the limelight.  And new ways to rig them, like using a Flutter Hook, are putting lots of fish in the cooler in both fresh and saltwater.

Springtime striper caught with the Project-X Flutter Fluke rig

Spoons and jigs have been used since caveman days.  Although they were primitive, they still put meat on the table.  Today’s shinier versions work on the same principles, but now we have terms like Slow-Jigging, Deep-Dropping, and Butterflying.   These tactics all revolve around dropping a heavy piece of metal over the side and use a variety of retrieve tactics to entice a bite.  Our ancestors did the same thing with their homemade rigs…they just called it “fishing”.  

They say you can’t teach an old dog, new tricks.  After thinking about it, I’d say the old tricks worked pretty good back then and still do today.  But regardless of whether you’re fishing with this year’s latest gadget, or a rig that your grandfather used, the key is to get out on the water and start fishing.   I really don’t think a hungry fish cares whether it’s the latest rage or a time-tested favorite.   So while you’re re-stocking your tackle box for spring fishing, consider blowing the dust off some of those old standby’s from a few years ago too.  I’d wager if they caught fish a few years ago, they’ll still catch fish today.

Tight lines and calm seas,

Capt. Cefus and Buck, the Wonder Dog.

TLC for your boat trailer

If you own a boat, you probably own a trailer.  Perhaps you launch and load your boat each time you use it.  Or maybe you keep your boat in the water during the summer months and only use your trailer to store the boat out of the water in the winter.  Believe it or not, trailers that get used more often tend to last longer because the owners perform regular maintenance and catch issues before they become major headaches.

Whether your trailer gets used once a week or once a year, it’s important to keep it in good shape because there’s nothing worse that having a fun boating day or a fishing trip cut short due to trailer problems.

Here’s a few Nuts & Bolts Trailering Pro Tips to help keep your trailer in tip top condition and insure you get to the boat ramp on time.

#1 – Check your tires…regularly.  Run the rated air pressure in the tires.  You can see the recommended pressure stamped on the sidewall.  Look for signs of uneven wear in the treads…this could indicate an axle alignment issue or wheel balance issue.  If a tire is starting to crack or show signs of old age, replace it.   Also, check the lug nuts on the wheels for correct torque, and add little grease to each wheel bearing.

#2 – Check your winch, winch lock, and winch strap.  Give the gears a little lithium grease.  Check the winch lock and rachet are fully functional.   And thoroughly examine every inch of your winch strap.  If it’s starting to fray a little, replace it.  You should also have a safety chain attached to the trailer, which then attaches to the bow eye.  And speaking of safety chains, you should have safety chains that connect from the trailer to your tow vehicle.  Criss-cross them under the trailer tongue.

#3 – Check your trailer lights.  This is probably the most common issue with trailers.  Wire connections and bulb sockets get corroded.   The harness connector pins can corrode or bend.   And we’ve all seen lots of trailers with broken-off tail lights, and busted amber side lights.  Before you leave the driveway, check running lights, brake lights and turn-signals. 

#4 – Check the brakes and brake fluid.   This is pretty easy.  If you have surge brakes on your trailer (most do), just pull it a few hundred feet with your tow vehicle and press the brakes.  The trailer should not ‘push’ your vehicle.  Check the fluid reservoir on the trailer tongue.

#5 – Trailer Jack & Wheel. This is the one thing that seldom gets checked before leaving, and can be the most aggravating of all.  Check the trailer jack and wheel.   If it sticks when raising or lowering, or the wheel is rusted in place, or the crank is bent…take my advice and replace it.

These five things should provide the maintenance basics to get you to, and from, the boat ramp.  There are a few others things worth mentioning.  If your trailer has been sitting in the driveway for a while, whether it has the boat on it or not…take it for spin around the block every couple months.  It helps prevent ‘flat’ spots on your tires, and keeps the bearings lubricated.   I always put a safety pin in the coupler lock once it’s on the trailer ball.  It’s an extra measure of safety.  You do not want to see your trailer and boat passing you on the highway because the coupler wasn’t totally locked down. 

Of course, don’t forget to properly maintain your tow vehicle.  Check the oil, coolant, brakes, lights, and condition of your tow hitch.  A small bit of lithium grease on the hitch ball will help the trailer tongue slide on an off easier. Always carry at least two wheel chocks in the tow vehicle. If you happen to have a flat tire, or have to disconnect the trailer for some reason, you’ll definitely want to have the chocks for the tires. Having a heavy duty jack, like a bottle jack…and a couple of 4X4 blocks, along with a battery powered impact driver and socket set will be a huge asset if you have to do any repairs while away from home.

When the boat is off the trailer, inspect the bunks and the bunk coverings. Some bunks are covered with carpet, some with a vinyl encapsulation. Look for torn places, staples or nails that are sticking up. Replace worn carpet, and/or questionable bunk boards. While the boat’s off, this is also a good time to inspect the brake lines, wiring, axles, and the bolts and weld joints on the trailer. And also the nuts/bolts and u-bolts that hold your winch on the the brace. They can loosen from just riding down the road.

Finally, be sure to rinse your entire trailer with lots of clean, fresh water every time.   If it has a brake washdown system with a hose connector…do that.  Take care of your trailer and it will take care of your boat on the highway.

Tight lines and calm seas,

Capt. Cefus and Buck, the Wonder Dog.

FISHING WITH THE BIRDS

Seagulls actively feeding

If you fish virtually any of the southeastern impoundments, you’ll notice the birds have returned for the winter.   Seagulls and loons are getting fat on the abundance of bait available right now, and they will typically stay around for another month or so.   For us anglers, the birds give us a lot of insight on where to fish.   They can also be quite deceiving as well.  

First let’s examine seagulls.  While seagulls can dive a foot or two in the water, they aren’t built for long, submerged foraging dives like loons and gannets.  Instead, they rely on gamefish to corral the bait into tight wads and push them toward the surface.  Once the buffet is skittering on the top, the seagulls can easily swoop down and pick a treat right off the table.   So if you see seagulls whirling and skimming the surface, you know there’s bait in the area, and there are gamefish directly beneath the bait. 

On the other hand, loons can do their own foraging.  You may see a loon drop below the waves, and pop up one hundred, or more, feet away.  Loons also work in groups, like gamefish, to herd the bait into large pods so they can gorge themselves a lot easier.  Because loons are ‘hunters’, where seagulls are ‘opportunists’, sighting loons actively working and feeding may not always indicate the presence of gamefish in the area.   Also seeing seagulls whirling over a group of loons doesn’t necessarily mean there’s gamefish in the area.  The seagulls may simply be benefiting from the efforts of the loons instead of fish.

If you see a raft of seagulls lounging on the surface…and sometimes there will literally be hundreds floating together…that’s a good place to mark on your Simrad chartplotter.  They are there for a reason.   There’s probably bait in the area, but it’s scattered for the moment, and they are waiting for a herd of gamefish to bring them to the surface.  I don’t usually spend a lot of time fishing around floating birds, but I’ll keep my binoculars handy and keep an eye on them.  You’ll get a sense of what’s in the area pretty quickly, and can monitor several flocks at the same time.  When a flock gets active, you can maneuver to the vicinity.

A couple words of caution.   Don’t, I mean don’t, blast over to the middle of an actively feeding flock of gulls.   You’ll usually wind up causing the bait…and the fish…to scatter and go deep.  Instead, motor within a few hundred feet, and ease toward them on your trolling motor.  You can also get a sense of which direction the birds, bait and fish are moving.   Then plot an intercept course to have the fish come to you.  This gives you time to put your own bait spread out, and wait for the bite.  Casting topwater plugs, like MirroLure Top Dogs, Zara Spooks and Chug Bugs will draw explosive strikes.  Casting rigs like the Project-X X-Rig will get you multiple hook-ups.  And planer boards and umbrella rigs are an excellent way to put your baits in the strike zone too, although these take longer to deploy.   

A lot of ‘bird-fishing’ is Run-And-Gun fishing.  Find a flock, get within casting distance, make a few casts and move on.  This kind of action, while exciting, typically lasts just a few minutes at each location.  So be ready, with both live baits and casting lures. 

This kind of technique is visual, it’s fun and will test your skill for long-distance and accurate casts.  But the reward of having everyone on the boat hooked to a monster is worth the effort.

I’ll see you on the water!

Tight lines and calm seas.

Capt. Cefus McRae – Nuts & Bolts of Fishing

WINTER FISHING REPORT

If you live near a southern impoundment, you’ll notice the loons have arrived!  And they are here for one reason…to fill their bellies.   Every winter loons and seagulls show up on our area lakes to feed on schools of threadfins, shiners and herring.   For us anglers, the loons are beacons that tell us where to fish.  They are extremely efficient anglers themselves, literally flying beneath the surface as they feed.  

And where there is bait, there will also be stripers, hybrids and bass close by. 

Actively diving loons are a sure indicator of bait in the area.   They work in pairs or large groups.   When you see the large floating groups of loons, that’s a great place to drop your live herring, or troll a Captain Mack’s Umbrella rig or a Project-X X-Rig.   Casting spoons and bucktail jigs will also generate a bite. 

Now, sometimes loons can fool us anglers too.  If they are actively feeding, it does indicate a presence of bait.   However, there may not be gamefish right there.   Remember, there’s lots of bait pods in the lake, and the schools might be targeting a wad of bait 100 yards away from the group of loons.  So you may have to do a little looking around. 

In the coming weeks, the seagulls will show up, and that’s when it gets really interesting.  Seagulls cannot dive in the water for food.  They rely on something else, like loons or gamefish, to push the bait to the surface…and they swoop down to pick their meals off the top of the water.   Seagulls will hang around flocks of loons for this reason.   And, they have great eyesight from above, so they can see schools of stripers working bait below.   Sometimes you’ll have all three working together, and that’s the money spot.   If you see seagulls whirling and diving, and there are no loons around, get ready for an awesome bite.   And this is true for both spotted bass and largemouth as well. 

Right now, most lake temperatures are steadily dropping.  Temps are in the mid to upper 50’s right now.  That’s perfect water for stripers and hybrids. 

Fish the major creeks, and you may need to go all the way to the backs of them to find the schools of bait.   The key from now til the early spring will be to find bait.   Typically, you’ll be fishing water less than 60 feet, but because the lakes are turning over, and dissolved oxygen will be good throughout the water column, you could find them very deep, especially on a sunny day.   Start early, and shallow, then move to the deeper pockets around the creek mouths.

If your local bait store has rainbow trout or large gizzard shad available, be sure to put a few of those in your baitwell too.  Gizzard shad are hardy, and will last all day in the well.  And, provided you hook them correctly, they will last a good while on the troll.   Bigger baits will attract larger fish.   But always keep a couple of smaller baits in your spread too, like bluebacks or shiners.  Remember the old saying… “Elephants eat peanuts.”

Capt. Mack’s Umbrella Rigs, Project-X X-Rigs, and Project-X Saucertails in white will draw strikes.   Try putting a small 00 Clark Spoon on the center leader of an umbrella rig.   And both downlined and freelined herring are good choices.   Pulling planer boards close to the bank will get you some great bites, and a bonus spotted bass too. 

You can get all your striper gear, lures and rigs at www.NutsAndBoltsFishing.com.   We’ll get you hooked up!   And watch our TV episodes on catching stripers and hybrids on CarbonTV.com.

Stay safe on the water and catch ‘em up.

Capt. Cefus McRae and Buck The Wonder Dog.

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS FOR ANGLERS

Trying to find a holiday gift for someone who loves to fish?  That can be one of the most difficult tasks of the year.  First, because they probably have too much stuff already, and it would be almost impossible to buy a lure, a reel, or a fishing accessory they really need.  And second, because whatever you buy them will most likely end up on a shelf, gathering dust.  Buying me $25 flashy lures that I’ll never use, is kind of a waste of money…at least for me.  And I’d bet many folks who fish on a regular basis might tell you the same thing.  Anglers can be a fickle group of folks.   I know because I am one.

So, I searched my memory for things that I use a lot.  Stuff I need to replace regularly because it wears out, or gets used up, or I drop it in the water and lose it.   Sound familiar?

Here’s a few Gifts, Gadgets and Doohickeys you can stuff in your favorite angler’s stocking, or put under the tree this holiday season.  I’d be really happy to get any of these.

Fishing pliers.   Get the really good ones. The cheap ones will rust after one fishing trip. Get titanium or aluminum so they are less prone to rusting.  Cuda and Project-X make good ones for less than $40.   Or produce a very big smile by giving a set of Van Staal titanium pliers for around $350.

A good multi-tool.   Again, stay away from the cheap ones that have 30 blades and cost $10.   Go with a quality brand like Leatherman or Gerber and choose one that just has a few tools on it.

FoodSaver vacuum sealer system.  Frozen filets will keep longer.  Get a couple extra rolls of sealing bags too.

If your angler owns a boat, get them a gift certificate for a full clean and wax from a boat detailing company.  Nothing looks better than a shiny boat on the water.

Practical gadgets are always appreciated.  A LED headlamp that clamps on the bill of a ball cap.  Get one with both red and white LED’s.   Line clippers on a retractable spool.  A pair of compact binoculars…the Nikon Aculons are about $60, and they are great.

Stepping up in the price category…for less than $250 you can slip a Scotty Downrigger under the tree.  A Scotty Strongarm manual deploy/retrieve downrigger will put baits and lures down deep at precise depths.  The Scotty DepthPower electric provides fully automatic retrieve with the click of a button and runs around $550. 

If your angler ventures offshore, an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) is a must-have.  When things go wrong at sea, and you need help quick, an EPRIB sends a satellite signal to the Coast Guard and relays your position.  It’s the best way to have peace of mind to know you’ve got a means to reach out for help, because cell phones don’t have service miles offshore.  And ACR GlobalFix will run about $450.

And something every boater should have is a membership with TowBoat US.  The basic freshwater membership is around $90 a year and includes towing, jump starts, soft ungroundings, and fuel delivery.   Saltwater membership is around $150 per year.  

If you’re still having trouble finding the perfect item, gift cards from Bass Pro, Cabela’s, West Marine are always a good back-up.  I personally love gift cards because I can buy exactly what I want.

Be sure to throw in some sunscreen, bug spray and single use lens cleaning wipes.

Then put it all in a 5-gallon bucket that has a lid with a seat cushion on it.  A 5-gallon bucket is one of the most useful items on a fishing trip.  It helps carry gear to the boat, then it becomes a trash can or bait tank, and ultimately the soap bucket for washing the boat at the end of the day.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

Capt. Cefus McRae & Buck The Wonder Dog

Safe boating “gotta-have’s”

FISHING AND BOATING “GOTTA-HAVE’s”

Capt. Cefus McRae

Hopefully everyone understands and adheres to the USCG requirements for safety gear you ‘Must-Have’ on a boat.  Personal Flotation Devices (lifejackets), a Throwable (throwing cushion), Fire Extinguisher, Daytime/Nightime distress signals (flares), and some smaller boats might also require a paddle on board.   Regarding PFD’s… there must be a lifejacket for every person on board, AND…it must fit them.   So if you have kids on board, you must have child-sized PFD’s for each of them.  PFD’s must be in a serviceable condition, that is, they can’t be moldy, torn or in poor condition.   And both your PFD’s and Throwable must be ‘readily accessible’…they can’t be hidden under waterski’s or stowed in a compartment beneath all your fishing rods.   When you need a lifejacket…you need a lifejacket.   They need to be easy to access.

A couple other things to keep in mind regarding safety gear.   Check your fire extinguisher regularly to insure it is compliant, and fully charged.   Most have either a gauge or an indicator to let you know they’re good to go.  Another thing that’s easy to overlook…check your flares for their serviceable/expiration date.   Each one has a expire date printed on it.   Replace them well in advance of their expire date.   A violation of any of the above will get you a high-priced ticket from the Coast Guard or DNR.   More importantly, these are items that you will definitely need if you ever run into problems on the water, and they could save your life.

OK…let’s talk about a couple things that aren’t actually ‘required’ gear on a boat, but I think they should be.   And I’d suggest you give serious thought to incorporating them on your boat, whether it’s a fishing boat, a ski boat, or a pontoon boat.

ICOM M605 VHF Marine Radio

#1. A functional marine band VHF radio with a high quality VHF antenna.  The first response from most folks is… “I’ve got a cell phone, why do I need to add a VHF radio?”   Here’s why.   A lot of the areas where we go boating/fishing can have spotty cell service.   Cell companies don’t spend a lot of money directing their cell tower coverage beyond the shoreline.   So it’s entirely possible you could have limited, or no, service even on some of our inland lakes and coastal areas.   Offshore, you’ll notice your cell service cuts out just a few miles beyond the beach.   Also, when you make a call on a cell phone, the only person you contact is the person on the other end of the phone.   If you call 911, you’ll most likely be connected to the land-based EMS or police dept.   You’re on the water!   They have to go through a lot of gyrations to get you in touch with the Coast Guard or Marine Patrol.   And in an emergency, seconds or minutes can make the difference between a quick response and an uncontrolled dangerous situation.   With a marine VHF, when you send out a distress call, everyone with a VHF radio (within range) hears your call for help, including the Coast Guard, Marine Patrol, local marinas, and boaters who might be closer and able to lend assistance.  The net-net is usually a quicker response.   A good quality VHF radio costs around $100 and a good quality VHF antenna costs about the same.  So for just a couple hundred bucks, you have some added peace of mind, and the ability to call for help… and lend assistance to someone who might need it as well.

#2.  A chartplotter/sonar that is equipped with digital cartography.   Many anglers depend on chartplotters and their sonar units to help them find fish.   And most of today’s fishfinders are actually combo units with both charting and sonar available on the same unit.  For recreational boaters, a chartplotter can be a valuable asset for navigating unfamiliar waters, keeping you away from dangerous shoals, rocks, submerged obstacles, and simply staying in the main channel.  They also have points of interest like marinas that offer fuel and slip space, boat ramps, and of course all the aids to navigation (channel markers).   Beyond being an excellent fish-finding tool, they let you plot a course to your next destination, create waypoints and they are especially helpful when navigating at night and in nasty weather.

 

SiriusXM Marine Weather on Simrad Chartplotter screen

#3. SiriusXM Marine Weather is another “Gotta Have”.  Everyone who spends time on the water will eventually be subject to inclement weather.   Whether it’s a spring rain shower, a windy day that chops up the water, or a summer squall with torrential rain, lightning and high winds.   And sometimes these potentially dangerous weather systems can sneak up on us, catching us off-guard, and a long way from safe harbor.  Cell phone weather apps are a good tool to get forecasts and watch approaching weather systems.  But once you lose cell service, you’re at the mercy of your own senses…looking at the sky, and feeling the temperature and wind change of a weather front on the way.  Usually, by the time you realize this, it’s too late to make a run for the barn.   You can wind up in a precarious situation that creates a lot of undue stress and danger to you and your passengers.   The SiriusXM Marine Weather service gives you contemporaneous weather information, displayed right on your chartplotter screen.  It shows a variety of weather-related information including storm fronts and their speed/direction, wind speed and direction, wave height, precipitation, and lightning.  All of this information helps the skipper make prudent decisions on avoiding dangerous weather conditions, or the ability to potentially navigate around the worst of the storm.  When the waves are breaking over the bow, and the rain is coming down in sheets, having a tool that doesn’t rely on cell service and is displayed on your charting screen is extremely valuable.   It has been for me.  SiriusXM Marine Weather is a subscription service, and it’s quite reasonably priced.  You can suspend the service during the winter months and then re-start it when you put you boat back in the water when spring arrives.  And, you get all the SiriusXM music, news and entertainment you’ve grown to love in your car and at home.

#4. Take a Boater Safety Course.   When you think about it, operating a recreational boat doesn’t require any kind of competence certification.   The money you pay for your registration is really just a tax.  Having a registration number on the side of a boat doesn’t mean the person at the helm is truly capable of running the boat, or has any knowledge of the Rules of the Road for safe navigation.  Take the time to attend a safe boating course offered by the US Power Squadron or your local Coast Guard Auxiliary.   You’ll get a good foundation of the basics of operating a boat safely, understand all the safety gear you must have, and even get basic first aid instruction.   Personally, I think every boat owner should be required to take one of these courses.

We have several DVD’s to help you become a better, safer boater.   Check out the titles at www.NutsAndBoltsFishing.com 

Stay safe on the water and catch ‘em up.

Capt. Cefus McRae and Buck The Wonder Dog.

DIGITAL CHARTS: ROADMAPS TO FISHING SUCCESS

The other day, Buck The Wonder Dog told me he wanted to do a little fishing.  So we loaded up the boat and headed out to chase down a few stripers.   I knew the general area where I wanted to start trolling, so I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to my chartplotter on the way there.  Instead, we just enjoyed the sunrise and the brisk ride about four miles up the lake.

My Simrad was set to display DownScan full screen, and when we arrived in the vicinity, I switched over to my multi-window view which shows DownScan, SideScan and the chart.   Oops!  No chart chip!   I had removed it a few days earlier to download some screen captures, and forgot to put it back. 

I still had all my waypoints, but I was just looking at the ‘base map’ on the screen.  No contours, no creek channels, navigation aids, etc.   Nevertheless, we fished over several of my favorite marks (I name most of my good waypoints so I can easily see which ones are the ‘go-to’ spots), and caught some nice fish.

When I got back home, I dropped in my chart chip to note exactly where we had been catching fish.   Interestingly, those spots were very close to creek channels, and the convergence of creek channels.    I’ve known those places are usually likely spots for fish, but it became even clearer to me just how important understanding bottom features are to a productive day on the water. 

I’m convinced gamefish … both fresh and salt…use underwater channels, ledges, and other distinctive features as highways and travel routes.   Much the same way that offshore pelagics use currents and water temperature to guide them on their migratory paths each season.  

Once I saw the overlay of my waypoints on the chart, it was eye-opening.   I even scrolled around to other fishy spots on the lake, and the vast majority were either right on top, or very close to, these kinds of features.   I know this may seem quite elementary to a lot of anglers out there, but for me, it was a reminder of the significance of underwater highways.

It also lends some insight on how to fish a body of water for the first time.   Get the chart…either digitally on your electronics…or a paper chart of the area.   Plan out your stops for the day, and make your initial stops at the aforementioned places.   You’ll be pleasantly surprised, just like me, how helpful an underwater roadmap can be to catching more fish.

Tight lines and calm seas.

Capt. Cefus McRae

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